A very basic outline of German grammar

A very basic outline of German grammar to help understand the grammatical construction of the German sentences on Surface Languages.


German nouns have three genders masculine, feminine and neuter. Nouns start with a capital letter. E.g. die Milch 'the milk'.

Genders have to be learnt along with the nouns as there is no way of guessing the gender correctly.

Nouns can be split into :-

der masculine
die feminine
das neuter


The definite article varies according to the gender and cases of the noun, and whether it is in the singular or plural.


The appropriate pronoun depends on the gender of the noun. The object or person being referred to in the following examples is either a masculine, feminine or neuter noun or male/female.

Er is dort It/He is there
Sie ist dort It/She is there
Es ist dort It is there

So if tea is being disucssed (der Tee masculine), when answering the question

Wie ist der Tee? What is the tea like?
Er ist gut It is good

er would be used for it.

Bank is a feminine word and so the pronoun is sie.

Wo ist die Bank? Where is the bank?
Sie ist dort links It is there (on the) left

Pronouns and cases

English Nominative Accusative Dative
I ich mich mir
He er ihn ihm
She sie sie ihr
It es es ihm
We wir uns uns
You Sie Sie Ihnen
They sie sie ihnen

Pronouns have different cases and the case used depends on its function or meaning within the sentence.

This (das) and there (da) - when pointing

Ist das die Milch? Is that the milk
Ja, das ist sie Yes, that is it
Das ist die Milch That is the milk

Da ist der Flughafen There is the airport
Da sint ... There are ...

Da and das when (figuratively) used as pointing words, to not change depending on the noun or number of things pointed at.

Verbs (The present tense)

German verbs decline. The majority of regular verbs are declined as follows:-

Verstehen to understand
I understand ich verstehe
He/she/it understands er, sie, es versteht
We understand wir verstehen
You (formal) understand Sie verstehen
They understand sie verstehen

Geben to give
I give ich gebe
He/she/it gives er, sie, es gibt
We give wir geben
You (formal) give Sie geben
They give sie geben

Geben 'to give' is the infinitive. Many German verbs are declined (in the present tense) by removing the 'en' and replacing it with either 'e', 't' and 'en'.

Sie geben 'You give' is the formal form of the verb, used in both the singular and plural.

Sie always starts with a capital when it means 'you'. sie can mean 'she' or 'they' depending on the context.